Adopting Agile Practices to Achieve a Competitive Advantage

Published 25 October 2018 by Christina Ohanian

Deliver quality at speed. This is now the success mantra in our world of digital business. Organisations are increasingly being asked to react quicker to technological developments in their respective industries and many of them are feeling an intense pressure around needing to better adapt to our uncertain world. A world where change is the only real constant and where automated platforms such as AI and Machine Learning are steering behaviours, trends and customer demands. What organisations are discovering is that in order to keep up with these new demands and industry competition, traditional approaches for delivering products and services no longer fit the bill. What’s needed is a real shift in thinking, strategising and, more importantly, ways of working to help these companies survive and ‘stay in game’.

In today’s world, ‘staying in the game’ is even more crucial than ever. In our last blog post on this topic, we shed light on some of the companies, like Amazon, Adobe and Facebook, who have bought into a new culture of fast and frequent delivery of their products and services, believing that it will help them adapt faster and stay ahead of their closest competition. And they’re not alone – banks, insurance companies and well known online and high street retailers have all recognised the benefits of Agile ways of working – not just in their tech departments, but across the business.

 

So, what is it about Agile?

We’ll have all come across the term ‘Agile’ or the phrase ‘Agile ways of working’. But just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s zoom out for a moment and take it back to its core. Agile, in it’s holistic form, is all about having the ability to respond to change, especially in complex and uncertain environments. It’s a way of working that was developed in the world of software development and is focussed on solving problems through incremental delivery and continuous planning & improvement through self-organising, cross-functional teams.

But the question that remains is: why Agile? And why are so many companies choosing to adopt this way of working? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that come from Agile ways of working and how it can have a positive impact on organisations that choose to embed it.

 

Empowerment through collaboration and self organisation

People are at the heart of every organisation. With the emerging state of play with Agile and it’s focus on empowerment, self organising teams, and people, the spotlight is really shining on teamwork more so than ever.

Leaders are always searching for ways to improve how their teams, departments and organisations collaborate. The truth is that Agile isn’t just about how we improve processes and frequently deliver products and services. It’s also (and perhaps most importantly) about how organisations trust, empower and enable their teams and individuals within their company to solve problems and take responsibility and ownership for outcomes. Research has shown that employees that work for organisations that empower their staff to take ownership of their work are more productive, focused and happy and are more likely to stick around for a longer period of time, which means their companies retain their knowledge for longer which, in turn, can help sustain business growth. Empowering your people with the opportunity to learn, make mistakes and innovate can lead to extraordinary ideas, breakthroughs and powerful thought leadership.

 

Value-focused delivery

As a business grows and scales, so does the long list of everything that it wants to achieve. However, a common struggle that many businesses experience is with the decision around what order they should be prioritising this work. Many industry leaders have made the grand mistake of optimising flow and efficiency without focusing on value: they either wind up delivering products and services that no one really uses or their finished product does not generate nearly half the cost of what was invested to create it in the first place.

The key here is to learn to make decisions based on the value they deliver to the end user and the business. Understanding value – whether that’s value to the business or the customer – is at the heart of Agile delivery. Businesses can then use Agile to understand where they need to invest in their products and services, how they can generate a ROI and, in turn, understand how they can continuously delight and retain their customers.

 

Continuous learning and improvement

Continuous improvement lends itself to all areas of work, from day to day processes, to major changes in company structure and focus. Whether it’s learning through making mistakes, such as an incorrect line of code or releasing a product to market with a major defect, acknowledging and actioning areas of improvement are vital to a healthy, growing and vibrant organisation.

In the same respect, some things don’t always need to be broken for a fix or improvement to be required. Sometimes optimisation and improvements are necessary, because they bring about other benefits and better opportunities. I know they say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, but at the same time if an opportunity presents itself that could really improve your business or team then be brave and give it a go – especially if the current solution, which may work well functionally, isn’t providing any value! Continuous improvement doesn’t have to be complicated, but it requires attention and commitment. If you’re not continuously looking for ways to improve then you’re not evolving, and in business today, change and new ideas are what sets businesses apart.

 

Maintaining flexibility in your business

As I stated earlier in this post, we live in a world of constant change. Everyday the tech landscape is shifting, which has not only affected digital businesses but pretty much every business across the globe. With new tech emerging everyday, businesses must learn to be flexible, enabling them to change focus as and when necessary. Instead of ploughing through with a fixed long term, five year plan (which could very well lead to massive budget waste and the implementation of soon-to-be obsolete technology), organisations need to think about how to keep pace with what’s happening outside the four walls of the business.

Flexibility, in this case, means having achievable aims and targets, without concrete fixed long terms plans. It means making decisions to fund projects with a shorter timescale, in order to keep options open and allow room for change without investing hefty amounts of cash. Remember, there are many ways to reach a desired outcome, so keep your options open and have space to manoeuvre.

 

Speed to market and early feedback

Agile enables and encourages businesses to launch new products and services within a few months, or in some cases weeks, of inception. This not only gives businesses a competitive edge, it also offers the opportunity to make informed decisions, improving products and services based on real, up to date customer feedback instead of assumptions and guesswork about what customers want.

Agile encourages businesses to quickly iterate on delivery, getting new tools, tech and opportunities into the hands of customers and then using early feedback to embellish their products and services. Speed to market also gives organisations the first mover advantage, especially if the product is the first of its kind. They can then confirm their assumptions very quickly and determine what the next step or direction should be. Conversely, if their assumptions are incorrect it allows the business to quickly change direction and focus.

 

We’ve only just scratched the surface…

Now, it’s fair to say that we have only scratched the surface when it comes to the benefits of an Agile approach, and there are many more areas we can dig deep into, particularly the pitfalls of Agile and overcoming some of its difficulties and challenges (watch this space!).

However it’s important to understand that there is no one size fits all when it comes to Agile and the need for change will be different for every organisation. However, one thing I think we can all agree on is that how we work today requires change. The evolution of the current business landscape requires business leaders to embed a new kind of culture in their organisations, that enables and encourages their employees to continuously inspect ways of working and adapt to our ever-changing and uncertain world.

 

If you want to learn more about Agile and how it can benefit your business, check out our Agile course on our website or visit our YouTube channel to watch our mini lesson on how ‘scrum’ works.

This blog post is from Circus Street’s very own Scrum Master & Agile Coach, Christina Ohanian. Christina is passionate about building and supporting self organising teams and individuals from the ground up. Having started her career in software testing, embedding and building communities of practice she very soon discovered that as much as she loved being a tester her purpose was destined towards a different direction. She is now an Agile Coach and an active member of the Agile community of practice. She loves coaching and learning about people, their passions and what motivates them. She speaks and run workshops and also runs her very own games event #play14 London. Christina is also a Graphics Illustrator and enjoys bringing this into the workspace to run meetings and help teams collaborate.

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